One of the first steps in attempting to get closer to an XML-based means for e-business interchange is the XML/EDI effort. This effort, in effect, is a combination of the best practices and technologies learned from EDI with the benefits that XML provides.
A lot of time and effort was put into making traditional EDI a success. Consequently, a lot of best practices and business process know-how was inserted into EDI specifications, software, and implementations. The desire to uproot these systems and replace them with completely redesigned ones makes some implementers hesitate, at best. However, the set-backs and challenges of EDI implementation have also thrown a wrench into many EDI rollouts. Therefore, a halfway solution must be found that can improve EDI with new technology while not throwing it completely out.
It is in this spirit that XML/EDI was created. The vision for XML/EDI is to allow orga-nizations to deploy a system that allows each trading partner to exchange e-business information using XML and Internet technologies, leveraging not just the old structures of EDI data but also process control templates and business rules as well. XML/EDI consists of five major components:
XML base specification
EDI transaction sets
Templates for process logic
A global repository and reference dictionary
Agents and implementation methods
These five components are combined to provide an e-business system that delivers e-business data as well as processes logic. By doing so, XML/EDI hopes to address the following list of requirements and solutions to the typical “ailments” of EDI:
Reduce the cost of doing business
Reduce the cost of entry into e-business
Provide low-cost, easily implemented tools
Improve data integration and accessibility
Maintain appropriate security and control
Utilize technology that can be extended and maintained with little adverse business impact
Integrate with today’s systems
Utilize open standards
Provide a successor to X12/EDIFACT and interoperability for XML syntaxes
Be globally deployable and maintainable
It doesn’t take much effort to simply encode EDI transaction sets into XML. Therefore, the real work and benefit is in encapsulating the various business processes, logic, and value-add that EDI provides beyond simple document encodings. XML/EDI has added the concepts of using process templates, the XML/EDI repository, and software agents as means to providing these benefits. Figure 20.3 illustrates the interaction of the five major components of XML/EDI. As you can see, XML and EDI are separate technologies, whereas the others are contained within the auspices of XML/EDI.
Process templates are built using XML and express work requirements throughout the system. They describe and control business context and process definitions that enable trading partners and users of the system to locate the correct components they need. As has been defined earlier, the XML/EDI repository provides a mechanism for users to define and look up meanings for the definitions of various e-business entities. As a result, described interfaces can be automatically searched and identified. The repository system provides a semantic foundation for e-business transactions while simultaneously enabling software agents to identify and reference business document entries.
In this regard, software agents serve several key functions and requirements. They are applied to process templates and interpret the results in order to determine work to be performed, and they interact with entries and definitions in the repository to apply and integrate the appropriate data per each business task. They accomplish this by searching the business repository and attaching the right template for processing.
XML/EDI Initiative was started in 1997 mainly as a “grass-roots initiative” to
pro-mote the use of XML for e-business. Since then, the vision for XML-powered
e-business has strongly gained ground, and the need to evangelize this vision
has significantly decreased. As such, many of the concepts within XML/EDI have
subsequently been used to form the foundation of the ebXML and UDDI work.
Therefore, there isn’t an over-whelming number of actual XML/EDI
implementations, but rather the vision itself has helped craft the industry.
For ongoing development efforts in XML-powered e-business, we need to look
toward the work in ebXML, RosettaNet, and other such efforts.